Canada continues to be a leader in LGBTQ+ rights and progress…
Another decade is coming to an end and the 2010s have been huge for historical moments in LGBTQ+ representation, acceptance and progress. A number of countries including the U.S. and Australia finally legalized gay marriage nationwide, transgender issues are getting a lot more attention and more and more people are comfortable identifying as non-binary and/or queer.
While there is still a long way to go to reach true equality for people of all gender expressions and sexuality orientations, it’s important to recognize how far we’ve come. Here are some of the biggest Canadian LGBTQ+ news stories from the last decade.
1. Toronto hosts WorldPride
In 2014, Toronto won the honour of hosting WorldPride, which was the first time it had ever been held in North America since its conception in 2000. The festivities included an opening ceremony at Nathan Philips Square, a gala and awards event, performances by Canadian artists and an exhibition commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The ten-day celebration also included three marches: the Dyke march, the Trans march and the annual Pride Parade which lasted over five hours—one of the longest parades in Toronto’s history.
2. Justin Trudeau became the first prime minister to walk in a Pride parade
Newly elected prime minister Justin Trudeau had been in office less than a year when he marched in the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade. He was the first Canadian prime minister to ever participate in a Pride parade in Canada’s history. He followed that up by being the first PM to march in the Halifax Pride parade in 2017 and then the Vancouver Pride parade in 2019. He has been open about his belief that Canada’s leaders should be at these events as a default. “It shouldn’t be a big thing that a prime minister’s walking a Pride parade,” he said, “and from now on it won’t.”
3. Canada introduces gender-neutral federal ID
In 2017, Canada became the tenth country to introduce gender-neutral passports, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards. Immigration minister Ahmed Hussein said, “All Canadians should feel safe to be themselves, live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose.” Despite this change, Canada can’t guarantee non-binary individuals won’t be discriminated against when they travel abroad. Some countries might even deny entry to people with an X gender marker. Still, Canada’s official support of people of all gender identities and expressions is an important stand to take to start setting a good example for the rest of the world.
4. Vancouver Olympics Pride House 2010
Pride House is a dedicated location that hosts lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes, volunteers and visitors from all over the world during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Canada was host to the very first Pride House during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver with two separate venues. One in Vancouver’s gay village that was set up to provide education about Vancouver’s LGBT community and offer information to non-Canadian athletes about immigration to and asylum in Canada, and a venue in Whistler, which was closer to a lot of the events, had more of a celebratory theme. By organizing the first Olympic Pride House, Canada was making it clear that LGBTQ+ athletes are welcome here and safe to be themselves—something all Olympic host cities should be doing from now on.
5. Toronto Pride House is opened early in honour of the 2014 Sochi Olympics
When organizers tried to secure a Pride House location for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they were refused by the Ministry of Justice. The Russian government denied the request based on the belief that “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” would “undermine the security of Russian society”. Protests surrounding the ban of “gay propaganda” were held for two years leading up to the games with some even calling for the IOC to change the location.
During the games, a number of major Canadian cities began to fly rainbow flags on government buildings to show their support of the rights of LGBT people in Russia. Toronto also opened its own Pride House—which was already in the process of being organized for the upcoming 2015 Pan American Games—to support the athletes in Sochi from afar.
6. Eric Radford makes history and Canada hosts Pride House at Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang was full of historical firsts for LGBT Olympians in general with 16 out athletes competing for medals—the most in any winter Olympics. Not only did the games mark the first time male athletes competed who were openly gay but Canadian figure skater Eric Radford became the first out gay male athlete to win a gold medal when he won first place in the team event. Canada house was also chosen to host the event’s Pride House welcoming any LGBT individuals who were attending or participating in the games to visit and spend time.
7. Justin Trudeau apologizes to LGBT community
In 2017, Justin Trudeau delivered a speech at the House of Commons apologizing for past laws and policies that led to discrimination against Canada’s LGBT community. Trudeau acknowledged that “from the 1950s to the early 1990s, the government of Canada exercised its authority in a cruel and unjust manner, undertaking a campaign of oppression against members, and suspected members of the LGBT communities.”
The historic apology came with $145 million—$110 million in compensation for LGBT civil servants whose careers were affected because of their sexuality and $15 million for historical reconciliation, education and memorialization efforts. The Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act was also passed to allow people convicted of same-sex offences to apply to have their criminal records expunged.
Serial killer Bruce McArthur is arrested
On January 18th, 2018, 66-year-old landscaper and Toronto native, Bruce McArthur was arrested for the first-degree murder of eight men. He plead guilty in 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years. McArthur, a gay man himself, targeted men from the gay community who he saw as more vulnerable. Some of his victims were married and leading a double life and some were recent immigrants. Although he believed his victims wouldn’t be missed, Toronto’s gay community did notice and they took their suspicions of a serial killer operating in the gay village to the police. Although TPS launched two tasks forces—Project Houston and Project Prism—focusing on some of the missing men, many believe they never took the idea of a serial killer seriously.
The case is just one reason why the relationship between the TPS and Toronto’s gay community is on shaky ground. The third season of the CBC podcast Uncover investigates Toronto’s history of violence in the gay community and gives some context to not only the McArthur case but how the police have treated the gay community in general.
9. Loonie commemorating decriminalization of homosexuality
In 2019, the Royal Canadian Mint released a commemorative loonie paying tribute to the 50-year anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality across Canada. The loonie combines the words “Equality-Égalité” with the work of Vancouver-based artist Joe Average.
Although the coin was meant to celebrate acceptance, many in the LGBT community were not impressed by the gesture. While Pierre Elliott Trudeau fought for the reforms that decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, there was a lot of work done by gay community before that and many gay rights activists believe the government shouldn’t be getting all the credit for driving progress. The reality is that while many gains have been made in the last 50 years, there is still a lot more to be done.
10. The Toronto Police apologize for bathhouse raids
In 1981, the Toronto Police raided 4 bathhouses armed with crow bars and sledgehammers arresting and charging 286 men. Although more than 90% of the charges were dropped, the damage the raids did to the relationship between the LGBT community and the Toronto Police Service can still be felt today.
In 2016, as part of the annual Pride celebrations, police Chief Mark Saunders apologized for the raids saying, “the 35th anniversary of the 1981 raids is a time when the Toronto Police Service expresses its regrets for those very actions. It is also an occasion to acknowledge the lessons learned about the risks of treating any part of Toronto’s many communities as not fully a part of society”. Many in the LGBT community believed the apology was long overdue but also acknowledged that the raids were the catalyst for the gay movement in Toronto leading to public protests and eventually Pride.
11. The world’s first non-binary baby is born
While parents are free to raise their children without gender in their day-to-day lives, legally every baby born receives either an M or a F on their birth certificate. That is until July 2017 when a parent in British Columbia obtained a health card for their child with a “U” for unspecified.
The baby, Searyl was born outside the traditional medical system and did not undergo a “medical gender inspection” upon birth. As a non-binary person themselves, Kori Doty, the baby’s parent believed in not gendering their child. “It is up to Searyl to decide how they identify, when they are old enough to develop their own gender identity. I am not going to foreclose their choices based on an arbitrary assignment of gender at birth based on an inspection of their genitals.” Searyl is the first known child in the world to be growing up without a gender legally specified.